Everyone is born with natural strengths, talents, gifts, traits and abilities. For some these “gifts” are more pronounced and obvious, while for others their gifts seem so subtle, so imperceptible that many don’t even notice that they exist. These more stealthy strengths, which operate below consciousness at times, quietly direct our lives, determining our interests and activity selection. They impact our quality of performance and our ability to cut through the challenges of life.
Our Character strengths, like a rudder mounted deeply below the water line of a ship will silently guide our lives and provide us with amazing opportunities. How much more powerful could our children’s lives be however, if we could teach them how to better understand and control that rudder in their lives and teach them to pay attention to that one thing that really will steer the rest of their lives.
Go take the VIA assessment to find out your top 25 strengths and your children’s as well.
Understanding the ABC’s of Character Development
Simply put parents basically have three areas they can focus on in order to foster healthy child development. I call these three areas the ABC’s of Life. They are; the Activities that your children participate in day (school, sports, friends, church), B stands for the Behaviors your children show when engaged in those activities (ie., study habits, listening to coaches, calling friends, leader projects) opportunities) and C stands for the innate Character Strengths (ie., patience, purpose, work ethic, humility, teachability, etc.) that ever human being is born with. Now lets show you how to help your kids better negotiate the ABC’s to find a lasting identity and source of confidence and direction in their lives.
The A’s are for the Activities that we have our children involved in to help them to experience life more fully. The B’s or Behaviors are those behaviors that our children demonstrate while participating in those activities. And the C’s are the Character Strengths, which actually make up and determine how our children may be behaving in any of the given set of circumstances. For example how many times has one of your children committed to be one a sports team and yet in the middle of the season, loses interest and wants to quit the team or doesn’t listen to the coaches or do the required activities.
Most parents end up recognizing their children’s for the activities or behaviors that they are performing but not their Character strengths. This approach has problems however, because a child may never play in band after high school and yet the character strengths he’s demonstrated will go with them throughout the rest of their life.
Focus On The C’s, Not The A’s and B’s
The idea of teaching a parent to pay more attention to their children’s C’s than there A’s and B’s seems like a pretty easy task as most parents jump right on every C that they see. However in this case I’m not talking about grades, I’m talking about the ABC’s of life. Most parents end up spending more time focusing on their children’s Activities and Behaviors than the do on their Character Strengths and Development. Our assumption as parents is that by having my children in a lot of productive activities, they’ll naturally learn behaviors and character strengths that they need. For example many parents might believe that their child playing on organized teams will ensure that they’ll become a better leaders or that taking music lessons will give them more ability to focus. Undoubtedly all of these activities do have positive impact on our children however perhaps the best way to build a strong character is to make sure we’re focusing on the character.
Perhaps instead of focusing on the A’s (Activities) and B’s (Behaviors) of our children, we should pay more attention to the C’s (Character Development) itself. In order to make this leap we need to first distinguish between three very different levels of human development.
- Tie your children’s activities to their character strengths
- Ensure that every behavior bonanza and break down can be tied to character strength.
- Start making a list of unique character strengths that your children have.
- Notice as a parent the progress of each strength and help your children set goals on their character strengths.
- Give them scenarios about how they could use their strengths with others. Make sure your solutions you give to their problems enables their strengths to be use.
- Call on their special character strengths when it is needed around the in the house. When someone is patient ask them to use their patience to help a younger sibling.
- Identify activities that they love and try to figure out with them why they love is so much.
Correct Negative B’s Leveraging Positive C’s
In order to truly create change in lives and to deeply embed Character Strengths into the our children’s lives we need to make sure that even in our correction we still point out our children’s Character strengths. By understanding their character better you can now better negotiate how they can use their strengths to their advantage. Nobody wants to be known only for what they do wrong in the eyes of their parents, like the “Black Sheep” of the family, or the kid who never listens. When we focus on the Positive C’s they too can see how to use their strengths to be more effective in life. Here are a few examples of how we can better interpret why our children do what they do and how we can help to better understand it.
- Your child’s inability to follow the rules may be a sign of a strength rather than weakness. Perhaps they are just more independent thinkers, leaders or creativity beings that would rather innovate than replicate.
- Their love of video games may be strength of creativity, problem solving, competition, fun loving, not just laziness or a weakness of character.
- Their willingness to get themselves stuck on the higher branches of a tree may be showing a strength of adventurous, curiosity, self motivation or competitive nature.
- Your child’s tendency to say things that are embarrassing can probably be just as easily explained by the fact that they are socially minded, honest and spirited.
We must learn to see the potential positive character strengths that they are demonstrating to help them to combat their own bad behavior. After catching your children in a lie, affirm that you know that they have strong character strengths and ask them how we can use those strengths to handle this situation better than lying about it.
Remember That Character Can Expand In Any Activity. The time spent working on activities is not as valuable as the same amount of time working on character strengths. The neat fact though is that they can both be accomplished at the same time. By helping our kids to understand their character strengths demonstrated during daily activities and even moments of discipline, our children would mature with a strong tool set. Tools that will stand the test of time, that natural to them and that they will know how to use for the rest of our life. In the end we never may play football again, but we will always be able to leverage the character strengths we learned while playing.
Notice what they do excellently?
Identify The Intangibles as Well As The Tangibles
- Tangibles gets good grades- Never gives up (perseverance)
Look For Strengths In Every Behavior…Even Bad Behavior
- He may get in trouble a lot… Does he do it creatively? Does He lead others? Is he a self-starter?
Notice What He Does A Lot Of
Ask What It Is He Loves About What He Does
- Sports, Music, Academics, Church, Drama, Science Clubs,
- Sports- Lay up drills, tackling drills, listening to coaches, participating with the team, studying play books.
- Music- Practicing piano, initiating your own practice, studying theory.
- Academics- Listening in class, talking to the teacher, study habits, organizing your schedule, asking questions in class.
- Church- Opening your mouth in classes, willingness to volunteer for service activities, leading other students.
- Character Strengths- kindness, hard work, energetic, motivated, spiritual, purposeful, playful, optimistic, self- assured.
For more than a decade, Matt Townsend has been energizing and involving audiences with his unique approach to building and maintaining successful relationships. Known as one of America’s top presenters in the field of Human Relations and Development, Matt blends humor and story telling with interactive, real-life solutions that inspire motivation and immediate results in his audiences. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Communication and a second master’s degree in Human Development, he recently earned his PhD in the field of Human Development.